Startup helps fight 'superbugs,' highlights local biotech

Startup helps fight 'superbugs,' highlights local biotech

CENTRAL WEST END – A St. Louis startup looks to be at the center of a groundbreaking process that will allow new vaccines to keep pace with emerging “superbugs.” VaxNewMo’s new method of fighting bacteria is turning heads nationally. So is the company, which is the latest in a series of successful bioscience firms out of St. Louis.  

VaxNewMo is making headlines after its recent advancement, providing what it says is a faster, more efficient way to create vaccines that will help fight off emerging bacterial threats.

The company’s research will help in the fight against “superbugs” and is currently being featured nationally in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a peer-reviewed publication.

This is the second time in the past six months that VaxNewMo’s research has been featured by a national publication.

Christian Harding, CEO of VaxNewMo, said that he came up with the idea of creating the bioscience startup in 2016 but that it didn’t become a reality until the company

Christian Harding, CEO of VaxNewMo
secured the funding to back its research in February 2017.

“We became a company when we got our first grant. We’re no longer just this idea. We actually have money to buy things,” Harding said.

VaxNewMo’s innovative technology and platform is expected to make the creation of vaccines much easier. This means antibiotics and medicine will become more affordable to make and for patients to buy, ultimately making it more accessible. 

“We’re developing vaccines for bacteria that are an immediate threat right now and for ones that are a future threat,” Harding said.

Harding, a native of South Carolina, graduated from Ohio State University and completed his post-doctoral studies at Washington University. He noted that many of the costs of conducting scientific research were the same no matter what part of the country you lived in. But he said it was the affordable cost of living in St. Louis, coupled with the city’s unique culture, that drew him in.

“We actually have a prototype vaccine that we are getting ready to take to advance pre-clinical development,” he said.

“We think that we’re at an inflection point where we’re going to expand our resources. … We’ve kind of crossed those thresholds of prototype validation with the grants, and now we’re approaching that, looking for the venture money, more money that shows we can accelerate this really fast,” Harding said.

Harding said that he was hoping to secure more grants from both the east and west coasts and that VaxNewMo would be making an even bigger splash in bioscience.

For now, the CEO said he planned to continue with advanced commercial development.

The bioscience industry has been on the rise across the metro St. Louis area for the past few years now, thrusting the city into a national spotlight.

In 2014, nearly 10 percent of businesses in St. Louis were startups less than a year old. By 2015, tech startups in the area provided more than 1,400 jobs, double the amount in 2011. St. Louis’ bioscience innovation economy is one of the strongest in the country, ranking in the nation’s top five.

BioSTL, 4340 Duncan Ave., is a local nonprofit that serves as the backbone of innovation in the city. 

Established in 2001, the nonprofit became known as BioSTL in 2011. Its mission is to continue to help build the foundation for medical and plant science while promoting innovation and entrepreneur success.

“We just want St. Louis to grow and to benefit from our strength in bioscience … rooted in the St. Louis industry,” said BioSTL’s communications director, Maggie Crane.

Biogenerator, the investment arm of BioSTL, creates, launches and grows bioscience companies with the goal of helping start-ups navigate through the unique challenges of company development.

They give out grants, give entrepreneurs financial advice, and even offer equity investment. Biogenerator also provides free access to wet lab space and research equipment.

To date, 113 companies have received grants or investments from Biogenerator with well over half a million dollars in additional capital generated.

More information about VaxNewMo is available at vaxnewmo.com, or by following it on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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